How to hire employees for a startup, fast and pain-free?

Why hiring for a startup takes so long?

Believe it or not but studies have shown that startup owners spend up to 40% of their time on hiring (and other tasks that do not generate income). Now, they could have been making money, working on their product, looking for the first investors, and strengthening their network. Yet, they’re stuck ankle-deep, fighting to find the best talent on the market and entice them to work for their company.

And to make things worse, it takes up to six months on average (!) to find the perfect match.

How to hire employees for a startup

Let me break it down for you:

If you spend 40% of your time over the next six months trying to fill the first open positions in your startup, you’ll spend 52 days screening and interviewing potential candidates.

Fifty-two workdays.

Ten and a half workweeks.

Two and a half months just to hire the first employee for your startup.

Before we move on to explain why hiring for startups is a real pain in the neck, we’re adding table of contents for you. Yes, we’re that caring!

Why does hiring for startups take so long?

Because it is delicate work. One bad hire can easily ruin your business.

Sam Altman, the President of YCombinator, states,

“mediocre people at a big company cause some problems, but they don’t usually kill the company. A single mediocre hire in the first five will kill a startup.

hire developers for startup

Therefore, hiring for a startup is a full-time job and not an easy one. It takes surgical precision, a deep understanding of what skillset the person you’re looking for must have, an ability to find real gems in the most unexpected places, and a clear understanding of whom to hire for your startup.

Startup mindset: Is it real, and does your candidate need one?

Yes, and yes.

startups hiring remotely

And here’s what early employees your startup should hire first must be like:

  • They’re ready to take responsibility outside their “job description.”

    Working for a startup is different from working for a big corporation. The latter is well-established, has very specific job descriptions, and offers little to no room for flexibility.

    In the meantime, startup life (aka as “hustle”) is 100% the opposite. Job descriptions are vague at best, and the early hires must be willing to step up and take responsibility for an assignment that might be beyond their domain. Such people are never idly waiting for their next assignment. They show initiative and offer their help to other team players whenever they get a free moment. Be it a marketing lead or a software developer, they’ll have to learn things on the go. Things that weren’t planned or intended. And learn to wear many hats.
  • They feel passionate about the solution.

    Now, we are all working for the money, not the idea. And it’s 100% natural.

    In fact, the most common reason for offer declines is compensation. So, the salary is and should be a motivational factor.

    However, you need to do the magic to find a person that would be passionate about your project, not just about the check at the end of each month. Otherwise, they will be out of the door the moment they get another better-paid offer.

    The good news is that people with a startup mindset exist. And once you find them, they would be propelling the growth of your product just as passionately as you are. So, just keep your eyes on the prize – and keep looking.
  • They are able to roll with the punches.

    In a hectic, constantly changing world of startups, things will inevitably go wrong. No matter how well you plan. Because the market is constantly evolving. And while it doesn’t affect big corporations that much, startup owners need tremendous resilience and the ability to roll with the punches amid any turmoil that comes their way.

    So, when you’re searching for your first hires, make sure that the person you’re considering for the position performs well under pressure and can make the best out of any situation.


  • They recover after a failure.

    It’s old news to ask about failures candidates have been through during an interview. We’ve all learned to turn every failure into a success story.

    However, when conducting an interview, take your time to better understand how the person recovered from a failure. How long did it take them to get back on track? How do they learn from mistakes? Do they seek help? Are they ready to admit and own the mistake, or do they simply put the blame on someone else?
  • They demonstrate high EQ.

    Considering that the first hires are most likely to become your company’s leaders, you need to focus on candidates with a high level of EQ.
    What’s EQ? Short for “emotional quotient,” EQ is emotional intelligence. It’s an ability to identify your needs and emotions as well as those of people around you and understand how to apply this knowledge to make the most of your collaboration with them.

    It’s been proven that higher EQ accounted for 58% of success in jobs across different industries. Besides that, studies have shown that around 90% of all best-performing employees have a high level of EQ.

    Even though you can’t fully assess a person’s EQ level after just one interview, you can look for personality traits that typically point to emotional intelligence:

    – Empathy;
    – Curiosity;
    – Cooperativeness;
    – Self-awareness;
    – Humility;
    – Self-control;
    – Motivation;
    – Resilience.

    Here’s a list of questions that can help you identify whether your candidate has these traits:

    – How would your closest friend describe you?
    – If you had to stay at your current (last) job, how would your team feel about it? How would you feel about it?
    – Who are your role models?
    – What sort of behavior makes you annoyed?
    – Did you ever face ethical dilemmas at work? How did you deal with it?
    – Did your supervisor ever criticize your work? How did you feel about it?
    – Tell me about a time you had to work closely with a team of people you didn’t like.
    – What’s one achievement you feel most proud about?
    – How do you recover after a particularly bad day at work?
    – Do you ever feel demotivated? When? How do you deal with this feeling?
    – Tell me about a time you helped settle a conflict between two colleagues.

These are the basics of what an early hire for a startup should look like. They might not fully describe your perfect match, but they should give you an idea of what to look for. 

Now, moving on to the next big question – hiring tips for startups:

Where and how should you hire for your startup? 

And we’ve got it covered, too.

hire programmers for startup

How to hire for a startup

There are three ways to go about it: 

  1. Popular (and not so much) job boards;
  2. Through your network;
  3. Freelance platforms.

And we’ll talk about each of them in more detail.

Job boards

Good ole’ job boards ain’t going anywhere.
In fact, it’s the first option that pops up in your head when you ask “where do startups hire their first employees from?”

Glassdoor, Indeed, CareerBuilder, Craigslist, Simply Hired, LinkedIn – the list goes on (and on, and on). These job boards attract millions of job postings. Thus, Indeed alone has 16 million open job listings and 100 million resumes. Should you join the league and try your luck here, too? We must admit, it all looks very promising. But is it really?

Pros

  1. The abundance of talent.

    Or, more correctly, the abundance of resumes available. For instance, CareerBuilder boasts that there are 155 million candidate profiles on the site. And while lots of them are not up-to-date and long forgotten, the majority are pretty active.
  2. Free plans.

    On most job listing sites, an employer can add a job posting for free. Considering that an average cost of a single hire is around $4K, you can use this chance to cut the expenses at least a little bit.
  3. Simplified application management.

    Once you post up a job on a job listing site, you’ll receive dozens of applications. And to make your life easier, some job boards will offer you various tools to store, track, and analyze the applications.
  4. Strengthened employer brand.

    While job boards can be a good solution for filling those openings of yours, they can also help you build up a positive brand employer.
    Why is it important?

    Two words for you: Decreased costs.

    Long story short, Harvard Business Review’s report shows that a company with ten thousand employees is likely to spend almost $8M in additional (!) wages to make up for their bad reputation.
    They could have spared almost eight million green ones if only the company had had a good reputation and a strong employer brand.

They promise they’ve got the talent for you. But do they really?

Cons

  1. Hidden costs.

    The truth is free posts can only offer you so much. To increase visibility and attract more applications, you need to pay the buck. Indeed reports that sponsored jobs are 4.5x more likely to result in an actual hire. So, in reality, free posts are often ineffective and only serve as bait for employers.
  2. Unqualified applicants.

    Every job posting attracts, on average, up to 250 applications. Only around 6 of those will get a call back for an interview. All because among the applicants, the majority is either unqualified or doesn’t have the required experience.
  3. Outdated resumes.

    63% of hiring managers state that talent shortage is their biggest problem. And even though the number of resumes on job boards looks rather optimistic, they’re often misleading at best. A lot of the profiles are outdated of the candidates you’re interested in, and a great deal of them are not even interested in a new job.
  4. No time for passive candidates.

    There is great talent out there who is just not actively looking for a job right now. Such candidates are in “an open relationship” with their job: they’re okay with where they’re right now, but if the right offer comes their way, they’ll gladly come onboard. In fact, Hays report that 81% of employees they interviewed mentioned that they would gladly consider leaving their job for a better offer.

    However, once you post on a job board and start getting hundreds of applications from unqualified applicants, you’ll be up to your neck in screening, sorting, responding, and interviewing. In the meantime, you’ll be missing out on a chance to reach out to other, less active yet even more promising folks. Therefore, if you’re looking to hire developers for your startup, this might not be the right option.

Now, if this doesn’t sound like the best way to hire, we’ve got two more great options for you.

hire first employee startup

Network

Sir Altman, whom we already mentioned today, said that startups should seriously consider hiring from their own network or at least aim to do so for the first hundred employees.

In fact, that’s what we did at Lemon.io. We got to fill 20% of all our internal positions using our network. And we promise those were the best hires we made!

Therefore, start with your own network. Look for the gems in your LinkedIn feed, go through your blog subscribers and active users, be vocal about open positions at your startup on all your social platforms.

If you already have a small team and it isn’t just you on a team, go start a referral program for your company to encourage your employees to look for candidates among people they already know and trust.

Why is it a good idea?

  1. Your employees already know these people.

    This will shave hours off your schedule. Testing, interviewing, and background checking on every candidate are more likely to go much faster and smoother with referred candidates.
  2. Your team won’t refer a bad fit.

    Hopefully, that is. But referring someone who wouldn’t quite fit in the position or the culture would be like shooting yourself in the foot: painful, silly, and completely unnecessary.
    Therefore, as our experience shows, they’ll filter out the candidates, referring only those they’re 100% sure about.
  3. Such candidates are more likely to accept an offer.

    Having someone you know and trust on a team is a gigantic advantage point for a candidate. Therefore, they’ll be more willing to accept an offer when the time comes.

However, if you’ve checked your network, contacted everyone you find fit, encouraged your team to do the same, and still have no luck in closing that job opening, consider another option – 

Freelance platforms

Two-thirds of all business owners considered outsourcing some work to a third party or a freelancer, states FreshBooks. Considering the odds, you’re probably one of those who did consider it at one point or another.

If not, then here are five reasons to consider freelance platforms:

  1. Reduced costs.
    First and foremost, freelance platforms allow startup owners to cut costs since they can offer plenty of great specialists from outside the US and Western Europe with a lower cost of living and, consequently, lower rates.
  2. Faster hiring.
    If you choose to work with a marketplace of vetted developers like Lemon.io, you can hire Senior programmers for your startup within two days. But note that this might not be the case if you choose a freelance marketplace with no vetting process .
  3. Expands your horizons.
    Local talent is great, but it’s limited. In the meantime, startups hiring remotely can pick a candidate from any country with any stack to best meet your business needs.
  4. Less supervision.
    Freelancers need little to no supervision. You can easily shave hours off your schedule you’d otherwise dedicate to managing and supervising your team.
  5. High work quality.
    With years of experience under their belt, freelancers can do wonders for your business (if chosen wisely).

These are the biggest benefits of freelance platforms. They seem legit to us. 

However, once you decide to outsource to freelancers and get your feet wet, you immediately realize that there are so many freelance platforms, you can’t decide which one to choose.

It can be overwhelming. So, we’re here to help.

First of all, there are two types of freelance platforms – vetted and non-vetted.

hiring for startups through freelance platforms

What are non-vetted freelance platforms?

Non-vetted freelance platforms, also known as bidding websites, allow contractors to create their online profiles and start searching for clients with little to no background check and skills and experience confirmation. They depend heavily on clients’ feedback and reviews as the only source to assess freelancers’ performance. Is this the best way to hire freelance developers? Let’s find out. 

Pros of non-vetted freelance platforms

  1. Lots of clients’ reviews.
    Since this type of freelance platform heavily relies on reviews, they encourage clients in various ways and through multiple incentives to leave their honest feedback. It helps the next customers better understand how well the candidate meets their needs.
  2. A great number of candidates.
    Since it’s easy to apply and get approved on such platforms, they are often the first choice of professionals unwilling to go through the vetting process.

    However, at the same time, the ease of registration and lack of background check brings in a ton of unskilled professionals. 

Cons of non-vetted freelance platforms

  1. No vetting process.
    It’s in the name. These platforms do not screen the candidates for you, letting practically anybody in. Thus, despite hundreds of thousands of registered users, you might still find it difficult to find a perfect match for your business there.
  2. Increased risks of getting scammed.
    Again, with little to no vetting, these platforms unintentionally let scammers register and bid for projects. And with scams getting more and more elaborate these days, it would be difficult to tell a professional from a fraudster.
  3. No top talent.
    Okay, there might be some. But they will only bid on the highest-paid projects not to compete with newbies. So, overall, hiring from such a platform might turn out to be more expensive.
  4. You do all the work.
    The hiring process might sound easy. After all, you simply post a project up, wait for the applications to start flooding in – and choose the best candidate to do the job. But in reality, it translates into hours and hours of background checking, negotiations over price, deadlines, etc. You’ll have to do a lot of work to ensure full transparency on both sides. Do you really have the time for it?

Upwork and Guru are among bidding platforms. To learn more about these marketplaces and the likes of them, please read this comprehensive guide.

Now, if you aren’t sure that you have the time, the money, and the energy to work with bidding freelance platforms, we’ve got great news. There’s a much better option – platforms with vetted developers. And since Lemon.io is one of the best hiring platforms for startups, we’ll explain how it works using it as an example.

What does the vetting process look like at Lemon.io?

  1. Resume screening.

    We start with the classics: screening each resume for relevant experience, checking out candidates’ portfolios, and going through their LinkedIn profiles. At this stage, we lose at least 60% of all candidates. We only take Senior developers with us to the next stage.
  2. Discovery call.

    After the initial screening, we invite the worthy candidates to a discovery call. Since we work with English-speaking clients, we check every dev’s language proficiency. Besides, just as importantly, we check out their soft skills to filter out those who aren’t a good fit for the ever-changing startup culture.
  3. Test assignment.

    At this point, we ask our top performers to conduct hard skill tests for the candidates in the pipe. We believe that our reputation at Lemon.io is our biggest asset, and to prevent it from getting hindered by poor results any developer might deliver, we test them from any possible angle leaving only the best ones. Thus, we ensure that our clients that consider our platform as a godsend to their desperate cry of “”how to hire a lead developer in startup company” will get a professional they can trust, rely on, and expect the highest results possible.
  4. Final touches.

    Lemon.io hires only the top 4% of all applicants. Those who pass all the vetting stages are ready to start working with a client within a day or two. If you’ve ever tried hiring for your startup, you know that two days to hire is miraculously fast.

To find out more about Lemon.io and how to hire a programmer for a startup with us, check out our honest review of the platform here.

It’s in your hands now.

Now that you know that out there, there is a perfect solution for you to hire fast and hire well, you have no excuse no reason to lose precious time to red tape and intricacies of the labor market. Leave us a message – and see for yourself: our elves from recruiting and matching teams can find you a mighty dev with the exact skill and technology set you need.